Tôm đòi vào nhà

Anh là Tôm, lông đen rễ tre, mặt nhỏ tai to đùng trông rất buồn cười. Tuy có xấu giai nhưng được cái thông minh lanh lợi. Thông minh thôi, chứ không ngoan lắm. Thích thì nghe lời chủ, không thích thì lờ đi. Chủ làm cái gì trái ý, ví dụ như bắt ở ngoài sân sau khi ăn cơm xong, là Tôm trả thù bằng cách tè bậy. Tôm hiên ngang đứng giữa cửa nhà tè, mặc dù Tôm biết thừa phải tè vào chậu, rồi Tôm chạy phắn núp vào chỗ chậu cây để chủ không lôi ra được. Tôm tính tò mò, rất thích bám chân chủ xem làm cái gì, kể cả vào nhà vệ sinh. Lúc nào Tôm cũng dáo dác xem chủ có cầm cái gì ăn được không để xin. Không cho nhiều khi Tôm còn mắng vài câu cho bõ ghét. Hơi bị xấu tính. Đã thế lại còn lắm chiêu không ai bằng. Muốn lên cầu thang là giả bộ sủa vu vơ cứ như nhà có người lạ; muốn ra sân chơi thì giả bộ buồn đi tè. Mỗi lần Tôm hư bị đuổi ra sân chưa ai kịp chạm vào người là Tôm đã lăn quay ra nhà nằm ăn vạ như Chí Phèo.

Bống là em ruột Tôm, cùng cha mẹ sinh ra mà khác nhau lạ. Hồi mới về nhà gọi là Cua, nhưng sợ em sẽ ngang như cua nên đổi thành Bống. Tên Bống hợp hơn vì tuy em cũng là giai, nhưng dáng đi yểu điệu như thiếu nữ. Lông em mềm mượt, lúc đầu màu ghi với cái vòng đen ở cổ rất đẹp, nhưng từ ngày thay lông đang chuyển màu tối dần, đã thế còn bị tróc da mãi mới lành nên kém xinh đi chút. Em Bống nhỏ và yếu người hơn anh Tôm, và khá là dốt và dát. Nhìn thẳng vào đôi mắt puppy của em thấy có sự hồn nhiên hoàn toàn không hiểu sự đời. Mỗi lần có động lạ anh Tôm sẽ phi ra trước, nhảy chồm lên bám vào cửa sắt nhìn ra đường. Em Bống thấy thế chạy theo, em cũng nhảy bắt chước anh Tôm, nhưng không biết bám thế là cứ lẫng cẫng. (Đấy là vì có anh Tôm nên em mới gan dạ thế, chứ có mình em thì chỉ nghe tiếng tủ, chạn đóng là em đã giật bắn mình lên không trung, tai cúp hết lại.) Có lần anh Tôm tức cô chủ anh sủa vào mặt cô, em Bống đi ra chả hiểu chuyện gì, thấy anh Tôm sủa mãi cuối cùng cũng sủa theo 1, 2 tiếng, rồi em lại nhìn anh Tôm và cô chủ, vẫn chả hiểu chuyện gì.



2 anh em thích ăn táo  DSC_0955


I won the permit for a river trip down the Colorado in the Grand Canyon and I’m ecstatic! And that’s an understatement. Regardless of what happens in the next few months, I’ll be back to the mainland US in early Jan next year for this once of a lifetime trip. (Of course unless I’m unfortunate enough to get seriously injured, die, or be denied a tourist visa. I’ll be crossing my fingers.)

The National Park Service (which is the best thing in the US in my humble opinion) runs a lottery system to award permits for kayaking/rafting down the river. Lottery opens at the beginning of the year (in Feb I believe) for dates the next year, i.e. Feb 2015 for all dates in 2016, and follow-up lotteries with limited dates when people cancel their spots. I entered 4 follow-ups for 2015 dates but didn’t get anything. This was my first follow-up for 2016 dates. And it’s the only lottery of any kind that I’ve ever won so far in life. And I couldn’t have asked for a better deal 🙂

The trip will be in Jan and I know i’ll suffer from the cold, but the upside is that it’ll be much quieter, less crowded, and we are allowed to take longer on the river. And nothing will matter once I’m in such grandeur.

I just read this from wikipedia and now I’m even more psyched now!

In Arizona, the river passes Lee’s Ferry, an important crossing for early explorers and settlers … Downstream, the river enters Marble Canyon, the beginning of the Grand Canyon, passing under the Navajo Bridges on a now southward course. Below the confluence with the Little Colorado River, the river swings west into Granite Gorge, the most dramatic portion of the Grand Canyon, where the river cuts up to one mile into the Colorado Plateau, exposing some of the oldest visible rocks on Earth, dating as long ago as 2 billion years. The 277 miles (446 km) of the river that flow through the Grand Canyon are largely encompassed by Grand Canyon National Park and are known for their difficult whitewater, separated by pools that reach up to 110 feet (34 m) in depth.

Da Nang sunset, rooftop

Da Nang night, rooftop

Where I go sip my coffee or drink my beer in the afternoon and evening. Where I watch the sun set, the planes arrive and take off, lightnings flash behind the clouds, birds gliding by. I always think nothing would feel freer than flying.

Chim ơi bay đâu mà vội thế,
Sao không dừng đây chút giây?
Chim ơi cho tôi theo với,
Muốn gặp người,
Ngàn trùng cách trở biết làm sao?

There’s one and only one company in Vietnam that I boycott: Sun group. Their presence is huge in Da Nang. They own Intercontinental – one of the most exclusive resorts in the country, Asia park – the only theme park in Danang with an iconic ferris wheel that I can see from my house across the river, and Ba Na Hills – a hilltop theme park/resort that I can also see from my house. My reason is simple: they have a habit of blocking public access to whichever area that their development sits on. (They also came up with the genius idea of building a cable car into Son Doong cave, which luckily was shot down because the stupidity could not escape anyone.)

Intercontinental completely blocks the whole North Beach bãi bắc of the Son Tra peninsula. And Ba Na Hills blocks off well Ba Na mountain, one of the only 3 mountains in Da Nang (the other 2 being Son Tra mountain and Ngu Hanh Son marble mountain.) Anyone that wants to go up the mountain has to use their cable car. What’s much worse in this case is that there IS a public road up that has been there looooong before Sun group ever came into existence. Sun group destroyed this road during their construction of the resort and has refused to repair it. They put up a guard post on the road and claim that it’s to warn travelers from the dangerous conditions of the road, but the guards are actually instructed to not let anyone pass.

Sun group is far from being the only culprit. The mentality of turning nature into private property is so widespread in Vietnam. Just look at the beaches. So many people believe and find it acceptable that resorts can block the public off their beaches. Thankfully it’s not legal in Da Nang, though the perception is there. I had a hard time convincing my parents that it’d be fine to sit and swim in front of resorts when they visited. The guards didn’t like it very much; and I’m sure they’d have try harder to intervene if we were a larger rowdier group. But at least it’s nothing like Nha Trang or last I heard Phu Quoc, where resorts put up physical barriers! It makes my blood boil. Hawaii has some of the most beautiful beaches and most exclusive resorts in the world and the public has access RIGHTS. Resorts, condos, multimillion houses, whatever development have you that’s on the beach HAS to provide public pathway.

People in Vietnam don’t know how to take care of nature, you say. It’s better for the resorts to keep people away so that they can maintain it better, you say. Yes, the awareness might not be here yet, but the solution is not to keep people off and let them go pollute elsewhere. The solution is to educate so that they protect nature wherever they happen to be. And I am seeing it getting better with the younger generations.

The mentality of “owning” nature is a lot harder to change. The impulse for nature to have a “utility” – whether it’s to turn a profit, or to keep the ecosystem in balance – runs a lot deeper and wider than just Vietnam. It’s so different compared to societies like Hawaii. We’ve been conditioned for generations, for centuries, so I really have no idea how to change or whether we could even change it.

Just short notes on a few books I read in April and May:

Complications: A surgeon’s notes on an imperfect science: Gawande is a well-known science writer, but this is the first long work by him that I read. All the more respect to surgeons; there’s so much unknown and uncertainty about how our bodies work. And when you actually think about the processes, the details, it’s so barbaric, cutting open fresh and across bones. My main take-away, whether the author intends it or not, is that you should not be obese. That complicates everything: surgeons don’t know where exactly to cut in, they have to forage around for the right organ; anesthetists have to rough guess the dose; you can’t lie down because of sleep apnea… So don’t be obese!

Arabian Sands: My new favorite travel/culture book, and now permanently in my favorite list of all genres. Life in Arabia before all the seismic changes caused by oil exploration and production. Eye opening. Great description of the desert and its way of life. I’m quite a bit jealous of his experience that sure is not repeatable anymore.  Confirmed my belief about the overwhelming hospitality of nomads and their admirable code of honor, and that the Saudis’ Wahhabism is despicably backward and has been so even before all the big money. Too bad they got rich and get to spread their influence. If only it was the other way around, the world would be so much more peaceful.

Song of Solomon: Picked this up, because well it’s by Toni Morrison. She’s a powerful writer, such a distinct voice and imagination, lyrical and magical. Story of Milkman, a black man born in the 30s, and his experience through life: some representative of his race, others peculiar to his family and upbringing. The uneasy disconnection you can have towards others of the same race, because of location, class, or ideology, even when you feel like you should stick together because that’s the only way to move forward. What exactly defines a black experience? And the struggle to find your roots, where your family comes from and what it means to living you life. A hard book to sum up, especially since the ending is so open.

El tiempo entre costuras: I was as doubtful to start this after my disappointment with La sombra del viento. Another heavy book  (over 600 pages) of contemporary Spanish literature that receives rave review on Amazon, and both have the backdrop of the Spanish civil war and world war II. Luckily, this one turned out to be delightful, and taught me so much about Spain’s engagement in WWII and the role of Spanish protectorate of Morroco in the civil war; I knew very little to none about both. Great explanation about historical figures like Surreno and Beigbeder, the working of British intelligence operations in the peninsula, and lively fictional characters of the pension owner/blackmarket dealer/ever-resourceful resolver of all pinches Candelaria, the artist possibly gay neighbor that knows everything about everyone Felix, and I loved reading the streets and houses in different neighborhoods in Tetuan Spanish Jewish Muslim, the smell and odor of Mediterrean Africa, the social scenes and expats and rich refugees waiting to leave the Continent behind once and for all, the destitution and brokenness of Spain. I know that’s a long run-on sentence, but too lazy to fix.

The Glass Palace: by one of my favorite historical fiction writers Amitav Gosh. All his books deal with complex issues and I’ve always reveled in how his meticulous research is weaved in his expansive stories, but in this one he is overly ambitious. There’s royalties and colonialists, sovereignty and invasion, exile, business and slavery and exploitation, imperialism and the Empire, mutiny and world war, the colonial mindset and its awakening and questioning, independence and democracy, and among all of that love, relationship, family, friendship. There are too many main characters and too many story lines, few fully developed to my satisfaction, and in some places it seems like Gosh is running out of breath to keep abreast of all the web that he’s weaved. All that said, without a doubt, he never ceases to amaze me with the breadth and depth of his knowledge on so many topics, and the power of his imagination to bring to life so many seemingly disparate characters and put them all together. Where else could you learn about the last royal family of Burma and their exile in India in such a realistic sometimes depressing but always so poetic story?

I wrote about wanting to be proficient in 8 languages almost 2 years ago already. Unfortunately very little progress so far. I did spend a year working on a spanish blog for other Vietnamese learners. I stopped a whiiiiile ago, but I believe it’s still one of the top 3 results on Google for learning spanish/ teaching yourself spanish/ spanish grammar/… (if you type the search term in Vietnamese of course). I also read a dozen or so books and novels in Spanish. But my weakest has always been grammar, and it wasn’t until very recently that I sat down with a grammar workbook. And of course I chided myself for not having done it earlier. Finally understanding the nuances in different forms of talking about a possibility in the past is a real beauty. These nuances, whether in pronunciation or meanings, delight me. I wish I had someone to practice with, but where I live and the lack of a reliable schedule have made it impossible.

And I was mistaken thinking that my next language would for sure be Portuguese. I love that language, no doubt, and have even gathered a bunch of excellent materials to learn, but the one I’m working on now is actually Arabic. It’s bewildering. Quite a few new sounds that I can’t yet distinguish. nd thy wrt lk ths, i.e. they write without vowels. thnk gdnss there are only 3 of them. J/k! t dsn’t mk any easier for a beginner. The script is actually quite fun, gotta stare at them and count dots and dashes since there are so many similar shapes. But hey, they have a letter that looks exactly like a smiley face to cheer you up. This bbc article says I should only use my brain’s left side to read arabic because it’s the detail-oriented side. Quite tricky because we involve both hemispheres to learn new tasks (and they haven’t discovered a button to turn the hemispheres off at will yet, have they?). This is particularly bad news for me, because as I like to say in job interviews, I’m the “global picture” kinda gal 🙂 oh well, insha’allah as they say.

[Leopold Gursky]
Who is Bruno? she asked.
I studied her face. I tried to think of the answer.
Talk about invisible, I said.
To her expression of fright and surprise was now added confusion.
But who is he?
He’s the friend i didn’t have.
She looked at me, waiting.
He’s the greatest character I ever wrote.
She said nothing. I was afraid she was going to get up and leave me. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. So i told her the truth.
He’s dead.
It hurt to say it. And yet. There was so much more.
He died on a July day in 1941.
I waited for her to stand and walk away. But. She remained there, unblinking.
I’d gone so far.
I thought, Why not a little farther?
And another thing.
I had her attention. It was a joy to behold. She waited, listening.
I had a son who never knew I existed.
A pigeon flapped up into the sky. I said,
His name was Isaac.
[Alma Singer]
And then i realized that I’d been searching for the wrong person.
I looked into the eyes of the oldest man in the world for a boy who fell in love when he was ten.
I said, “Were you in love with a girl named Alma?”
He was silent. His lips trembled. I thought he hadn’t understood, so i asked him again. “Were you ever in love with a girl named Alma Mereminski?”
He reached out his hand. He tapped me twice on the arm. I knew he was trying to tell me something, but I didn’t know what.
I said, “Were you ever in love with a girl named Alma Mereminski who left for America? ”
His eyes filled with tears, he tapped my arm twice, then twice again.
I said, “The son you think didn’t know you existed, was his name Isaac Moritz?”
[Leopold Gursky]
I felt my heart surge. I thought: I’ve lived this long. Please. A little longer won’t kill me. I wanted to say her name aloud, it would have given me joy to call, because i knew that in some small way it was my love that named her. And yet. I couldn’t speak. I was afraid I’d choose the wrong sentence. She said,  The son you think didn’t know – I tapped her twice. Then twice again. She reached for my hand. With my other I tapped her twice. She squeezed my fingers. I tapped her twice. She put my head on my shoulder. I tapped her twice. She put one arm around me. I tapped her twice. She put both arms around me and hugged me. I stopped tapping.
Alma, I said.
She said,  Yes.
Alma, I said again.
She said, Yes.
Alma, I said.
She tapped me twice.
Leopold Gursky started dying on August 18, 1920.
He died learning to walk.
He died standing at the blackboard.
And once, also, carrying a heavy tray.
He died practicing a new way to sign his name.
Opening a window.
Washing his genitals in the bath.

He died alone, because he was too embarrassed to phone anyone.
Or he died thinking about Alma.
Or when he chose not to.

Really, there isn’t much to say.
He was a great writer.
He fell in love.
It was his life.

These last pages filled my eyes with tears as i read and reread and reread them. They’re from “the history of love“ by Nicole Krauss. I had mistakenly thought the book was nonfiction but it turned out to be one of the best novels I’ve read in recent years. The story is told in multiple voices, and my favorite parts are Leopold Gursky’s, funny, self-deprecating, and heartbreaking. The pain and despair of living a life invisible, unnoticed, unrecognized. (And despite having a great talent, a great son, and a great love.) And the joy of finally knowing that your existence makes sense, of having it all acknowledged, even by just one person, a young girl who was named after his love. What purer joy could there be?